NEW YORK - Nobody would come right out and say it, but it appears Jeff Green will be cut from Team USA before the team leaves Monday evening for Europe.
Green did not log a single minute Saturday afternoon as the United States played a closed-door scrimmage against China at Madison Square Garden, winning the first three quarters handily (the scoreboard was reset to 0-0 after each quarter) before losing the final quarter 17-16 while experimenting with a small lineup featuring Kevin Durant at center.
JaVale McGee was also a DNP-CD, but he may still make the trip to Europe for exhibition games against Lithuania, Spain and Greece as an insurance policy in case starting center Tyson Chandler gets injured.
"The chances of us having more than 12 on the plane Monday are good, but it may be one more than 12, or two more than 12," coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "What we’re trying to do is see how Lamar (Odom) and even (Kevin) Love do there at the center spot. The 3 spot and the 4 spot with (Kevin) Durant, (Rudy) Gay, (Danny) Granger and (Andre) Iguodala is pretty solid, and the 5 with those two guys (Chandler and Odom) is good.
"So, it's who do you want to be insurance or a backup for a big, and then we have to evaluate the guard situation as to making sure we have a point in there all the time. We tried to take a look at those things today, and tomorrow (in an exhibition game against France at 1 p.m. EDT) will be even better because it’ll be a game."
So with Green and McGee more or less out of the picture, the competition for the 12th spot may come down to Stephen Curry vs. Eric Gordon.
Gordon was the better of the two Saturday, scoring 15 points and going 3-for-8 from downtown in 15 1-2 minutes to Curry's 7 points and 1-for-3 3-point shooting in 13 1-2 minutes. But Gordon could not connect on the final shot of the fourth quarter, a 3-point attempt from in front of Spike Lee's regular courtside seat off a designed inbounds play from near midcourt.
Lakers reject Sun Yue had given China the late fourth-quarter lead by sinking two free throws with 1.3 seconds left following a questionable foul call against Granger (team-high 22 points) on the perimeter.
"I was trying to ask the ref what I did," Granger said. "I don't know. It's one of those things with the international refs. They call it a little bit differently than they do in the NBA, and it's just one of those things you have to get accustomed to. And I think that was a good situation for us, because next time I'll know I'm going to have to give him at least a foot because I didn't think I fouled him. He said I hit him on the arm, and I thought I went straight up."
The U.S. team won the first quarter 20-11, the second quarter 27-15 and the third quarter 35-8 when Yi Jianlian sat out the entire quarter and the Americans employed a zone in the halfcourt when their full-court pressure failed to produce turnovers. For almost the entire 40 minutes, China was unable to get its set offense in motion because of the constant harassment from the U.S. defenders, who produced 22 steals (Gay had four, while Iguodala, Durant and Rajon Rondo had three apiece) as China committed 28 turnovers.
I watched the game with David Thorpe of ESPN.com, who is a huge Derrick Rose fan but believes Granger will prove himself to be the second most valuable player on the U.S. team behind Durant. One thing Thorpe kept repeating: "The last U.S. team had basket-getters at every position. This team doesn't."
Green did not make himself available to reporters afterward, but those who spoke to him Friday said they had noticed a change in his normally outgoing personality. Green did not distinguish himself during an intra-squad scrimmage at Radio City Music Hall on Thursday night -- except for blowing a wide-open dunk on the fast-break that led one wag (OK, it was me) to quip that it was the worst onstage moment in that building since Kanye West grabbed the microphone from Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV awards.